Easter Grain Pie
I sip my coffee on this Saturday morning and the house is quiet – except for the cookbooks screaming at me from the shelves in my home office. “Why are we still sitting here closed?! We should have been cracked open days ago! Lists should have been made and we’re all supposed to have markers within us while we wait on the kitchen counter for the fun to begin.”
Tomorrow is Easter but this year, of course, is very different. Although it sounds like a bad movie, we’re in the midst of a pandemic so there will be no gathering. COVID-19 has brought our plans to a screeching halt. My daughter’s wedding next month in Tuscany is postponed. The holidays? We’ll just do it next year. And my oldest, dearest friend, who just lost her Dad, will have to weather that pain without me by her side to lean on.
Another cup of coffee is poured and I settle in to let technology take me where I want to go. Photos on my computer from Easter’s past of my daughters and nieces in their Easter dresses scampering around our property on Long Island hunting for eggs bring a smile. In later years, as teenagers the frilly dresses gave way to jeans but it went much the same. We warned them there were no brown eggs and set them loose with their baskets. They ran and laughed taunting each other with who found more. Then, a month or two later, I’d come across a few stragglers filled with soggy/melted chocolate in the garden on a summer day and get to relive the memory with a chuckle.
While the girls were busy laughing and running, the adults would be on the deck with drinks and hors d’oeuvres shouting hints. “You’re cold; very cold! Ok – warmer, getting warmer!” There would be a cheese board with fruit, crackers and prosciutto, my Dad’s famous artichoke hearts and some spanikopita (a Greek, savory “spinach pie” in which dozens of layers of crispy phyllo dough are filled with spinach, feta cheese and herbs) One year, my cousins wife (who is Polish) drove to Greenpoint, Brooklyn just for kielbasa. She brought us a large platter of the most flavorful kielbasa I had ever had, sliced and served with spicy mustard. We had our own little ethnic melting pot right there on the deck and our taste buds were grateful.
We would then move inside where our springtime table would include a vegetable lasagna – no heavy red meat sauce here, just layers of homemade noodles, a mélange of vegetables and cheese. Next we might have a ham, asparagus, herbed popovers and a spring salad with blackberries, goat cheese and a sprinkle of slivered almonds.
Just when we felt we couldn’t eat another bite and were ready to scream “Uncle!”, the scent of espresso brewing would waft into the dining room and bottles of Amaretto and Sambuca were placed on the table. Unbutton those pants and get ready, because here it comes! Platters of Italian cookies and pastries appear. There are mountains of biscotti, savoiardi (an Italian lady finger made with a sponge cake batter), pignoli cookies (a moist, soft, chewy cookie made with almond paste and studded with golden pine nuts, typical of Sicily, Italy) and pastries: cannolli (the cannolo comes from Sicily, and consists of a piece of dough that’s fried until crunchy. The tubular shell is then filled with a sweet, creamy filling made of smooth ricotta, mascarpone and chocolate chips), pasticciotto (depending on the region, they are traditionally filled with either ricotta cheese or egg custard), and sfogliatella (layers of crispy, paper-thin dough filled with a soft, not-too-sweet ricotta mixture with candied orange that’ll balance out the hard crunch)
The queen of Easter for me, however, was the grain pie – Pizza di Grano. To someone who’s never had it, it probably doesn’t sound all that appealing but to me, it just isn’t really Easter without it. It tastes similar to the Italian ricotta cheese cake: rich ricotta cheese with hints of orange flavor and citron with the addition of wheat berries that are softened over a 4 day process, giving it a little more of a chewy, rather than creamy texture. The whole thing was sprinkled with confectioners sugar and the taste and texture was as addictive to me, as any drug. I could eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
This year, we are forced to press pause. Instead of our usual celebrations, traditions and togetherness there is solitude – a time to reflect and remember happy times past and to learn to wait patiently for what’s to come. I’ll reset my clock and as soon as it’s possible travel the miles to go hug my friend. I’ll once again wait with anticipation for a beautiful wedding in Tuscany. I’ll look forward to one day watching little ones stumble with excitement through the grass to collect Easter eggs while I enjoy a slice (or four) of Easter grain pie.